Last Updated on September 6, 2016 by Steven Meurrens

John McCallum, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”), has spent much of the summer conducting a speaking tour about upcoming changes to Canada’s immigration system.  He has particularly focused on how he wants to welcome more international students as permanent residents.

This will be a welcome development, because so far Minister McCallum’s tenure as immigration minister has been a disaster for international graduates whose post graduate work permits have already or are soon expiring.   Mr. McCallum’s March 2016 cuts to Canada’s economic immigration levels have resulted in IRCC’s Comprehensive Ranking System’s points requirement for foreign nationals to receive an Invitation to Apply for Canadian permanent residency remaining out of reach for most international graduates.

Minister McCallum has promised that improvements are coming in the fall, although the details are vague. Given that the Minister recognises that the current situation is untenable, it is incomprehensible why he has not introduced temporary measures to alleviate the frustration and dashed dreams that many international graduates living in Canada are experiencing, if they have not already had to return home. Mr. McCallum’s decision to not introduce temporary measures is especially galling given how simple and easy to implement they could have been.

Express Entry

In 2015, the previous Conservative Government of Canada introduced Express Entry, an application intake management system to reduce the number of people who could apply for permanent residency to Canada.

Under Express Entry prospective immigrants to Canada can no longer immediately apply to economic immigration programs for which they qualify.  Rather, people who wish to apply for Canadian permanent residency first have to enter a pool of potential applicants.

Applicants in this Express Entry pool are ranked according to a Comprehensive Ranking System that ranks people using an algorithm that factors age, language ability, education, experience, and whether potential applicants have qualifying job offers. About once every two weeks IRCC announces what the minimum points threshold is that day to apply for permanent residency, and invites people who have the requisite number of points to apply for permanent residency.

Because prospective immigrants are ranked according to, amongst other things, work experience and education, Express Entry when it was introduced disadvantaged recent international graduates, especially those who had graduated from undergraduate programs.  Such international graduates typically had between 350-450 points in the Express Entry pool, and throughout 2015 the points threshold to apply for permanent residency stubbornly refused to drop below 451.

However, had the Government of Canada’s 2016 economic immigration levels plan remained similar to what it had been in 2015, then the points threshold would have dropped in 2016.  The reason for this is because in 2015 IRCC had to process both Express Entry applications as well as a considerable backlog of pre-Express Entry economic immigration files. Because of the need to process this backlog, IRCC was unable to invite as many people to apply for permanent residency as it would have liked.  IRCC consistently, however, told stakeholders that the Department’s goal and expectation was that the points threshold to apply for permanent residency would drop to around 350 in 2016.

The Reduction in Immigration Levels

Unfortunately for international graduates, on March 8, 2016, Minister McCallum announced that Canada would in 2016 accept between 54,000 to 58,400 immigrants in its federal economic immigration programs. This represented a significant reduction from the 68,000 to 74,000 economic immigrants targeted for 2015.

The consequence of Minister McCallum’s reduction in economic immigration levels was immediately apparent in Express Entry.  As the following chart shows, the number of foreign nationals who were issued Invitations to Apply fell sharply after Minister McCallum’s announcement, and the number of points required has remained out of reach for most international graduates.

Date of Invitation to Apply Number of People Invited Points Threshold
Jan-15-15 779 886
Feb-15 779 818
Feb-20 849 808
Feb-27 1187 735
Mar-20 1620 481
Mar-27 1637 453
Apr-10 925 469
Apr-17 715 453
May-22 1361 755
Jun-12 1501 482
Jun-26 1575 469
Jul-10 1516 463
Jul-17 1581 451
Aug-07 1402 471
Aug-21 1523 456
Sep-08 1517 459
Sep-18 1545 450
Oct-02 1530 450
Oct-23 1502 489
Nov-13 1506 484
Nov-28 1559 472
Dec-04 1451 461
Dec-18 1503 460
Jan-06-16 1463 461
Jan-13 1518 453
Jan-27 1468 457
Feb-10 1505 459
Feb-24 1484 453
Mar-09 1013 473
Mar-23 1014 470
Apr-06 954 470
Apr-20 1018 468
May-06 799 534
May-18 763 484
Jun-01 762 483
Jun-15 752 488
Jun-29 773 482
Jul-13 747 482
Jul-27 755 488
Aug-10 754 490
Aug-26 750 538

A reduction of about 50% in the number of Invitations to Apply being issued and an increase in the points threshold from around 450 to 480+ may seem small, but considering that the points threshold would have decreased had the number of invitations not increased as IRCC previously planned, the effect has been that thousands of international graduates have been left in a limbo that often ends with them having to leave Canada.

Although it is impossible to know whether IRCC’s predictions that the points threshold in 2016 would fall to 350 would have come true, desperate international graduates can only wonder what would have been had Minister McCallum not cut economic immigration levels.

The Temporary Measures That Could Have Been

I understand that Minister McCallum faced difficult decisions in balancing the levels of Canada’s various immigration programs, which include economic, family, protected persons, and others, and that this was made especially hard because of his determined and laudable effort to resettle a large amount of Syrian refugees this year.

What I don’t understand is the following.

Mr. McCallum has throughout the spring and summer stated that he recognizes that the current situation is untenable, and that changes are coming to help international students.  Why then, has he not immediately implemented temporary measures to help international graduates who are suffering under the current situation that he recognizes is dysfunctional?

The solution would have been, and continues to be, simple.  Minister McCallum can by simply issuing a Program Delivery Update through the IRCC website let post-graduate work permit holders who are in Canada and who are in the Express Entry pool obtain bridging work permits to bridge the gap between the expiry between their current status and when whatever changes the Minister plans on bringing take affect.  To do this all that would have been required was a simple update to the IRCC website.   I cannot think of what the downside to offering such relief to international graduates would have been.

Most international graduates understand that Canada needs to set its immigration targets and manage its permanent residence intake as the government best sees fit. What I have observed, however, is that international graduates are becoming extremely exasperated with a government that is promising sunny ways and relief for them, but only in a few months.